WP Comments on the Demise of the GOP, Creating Democracies, and the Constitutional Option

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Over the past week, Winning Progressive has offered comments at the New York Times on why we cannot assume that the 2012 Elections represent the demise of the GOP, how US history shows that creating a democratic government is a long, hard process that requires eternal vigilance, and the historical precedents in favor of using the constitutional option to reform the Senate filibuster rules.

In her recent column A Lost Civilization, Maureen Dowd suggests that the 2012 election results foretell the end of today’s Republican Party.  Winning Progressive commented to urge caution as predictions of permanent partisan majorities or of the demise of political parties are almost proven erroneous.

Yes, the GOP is out of touch with the American people, and has been revealed to be an unserious party that is unwilling to address the serious issues our nation faces. However, we progressives need to be very careful before we declare the GOP to be done, because they are far from being so.

For one thing, history shows that no party gets a permanent majority. The New Deal coalition lasted for quite awhile, but even during its heyday, Republicans managed to win the White House and various policy victories. And in 2000, many “experts” were predicting a permanent Republican majority. Obviously that didn’t happen.

In addition to history, there are specific reasons to worry about a comeback for the GOP. Until Citizens United is reversed, billionaires can still spend endlessly to try to buy our democracy. The GOP runs the Governors’ mansions and statehouses in a majority of states, and is still working to suppress voting, undermine progressive organizations, etc. Our media still varies between false equivalency and mindless fluff that allows the GOP to get away with blatant lying. And if the House Republicans succeed in crashing our economy, who knows what happens in 2016.

So, let’s celebrate and build on our victories. But don’t get overconfident. Instead, continue working to advance the progressive cause, which has always been a long, difficult, and rewarding struggle.

In his column Inventing Democracy, Bill Keller uses the example of South Africa to discuss how difficult it is for nations coming out of oppressive rule, such as Libya, Egypt, and Tunisia, to create a stable democratic form of government.  Winning Progressive commented on how our own nation’s history similarly demonstrates how creating a democratic form of government is a long, difficult process that requires eternal vigilance:

Thank you for reminding us that the experience of South Africa teaches a number of useful lessons, perhaps most importantly that the development of a true democratic society from the ashes of war and violence requires a long time that is inevitably filled with struggle

A similar lesson can be learned from our own experience here in the US. Out of a revolutionary war, we first attempted to create a nation based on the Articles of Confederation, but after approximately a decade, it became clear that the government created by the Articles was too weak to be effective.  So, we replaced the Articles with the Constitution and, shortly thereafter, a Bill of Rights that were some of the most progressive and forward-looking governing documents of their time.  Yet the Constitution also enshrined slavery and it took well over a century before the principles of freedom, equality, and civil liberties found in those documents began to fully take hold.

Decades after the Constitution was signed, we fought a Civil War over slavery and whether we would remain one nation. More than 100 years after our founding, women still didn’t have the right to vote. And it took 200 years for basic legal rights to be fully extended to African Americans. And our democracy continues to develop and, at times, slip backwards, as time marches on.

The fact that democratic governance always requires vigilance and involves a long, hard battle, filled with setbacks and advances is a useful lesson as we think about how we can encourage democratic forms of government in other nations. Too often, we throw our hands up at the first sign of trouble. But we can and must persevere.

In Gridlock Reform, the columnist raises concerns that any use of the constitutional option by Senate Democrats to reform the filibuster would set a bad precedent that could be exploited by future Senate majorities.  Winning Progressive explains that there are already precedents of Senate majorities relying on the constitutional option to achieve changes in the Senate rules.

The argument that changing the Senate rules would set a bad precedent is simply false.

In reality, as has been documented by the Brennan Center, the ability to change the Senate rules by a simple majority has already been relied on to reform Senate rules at least twice since the advent of the modern filibuster in 1917. The first was in 1959, when the ability of a two-thirds majority to end a filibuster was established after then Vice President Nixon issued an advisory opinion making clear that the Senate rules could be changed by a simple majority. The second was in 1975, when then Vice President Nelson Rockefeller found that Senate rules could be changed by the majority, which led to reduction of the number of votes need for cloture from 67 to 60.

Even if the were no precedent for finding that Senate rules could be changed by a simple majority, I would urge Senate Democrats to do so now because we all know that today’s GOP will do so at the drop of a hat once it benefits them. But the fact is that such a change is not unprecedented.

If you want the Senate to no longer be a hopelessly broken institution, call your Senators now and urge them to use the Constitutional option to reform the filibuster.

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